Redemption on ice
LONDON, Ont. – With yesteryear’s wringing of hands a thing of the past and after the rare taste of failure had washed out of their mouths, this had to feel good.
Perched back atop the throne they’ve so mightily kept warm for the past nine years before they were thrown off by the Queen’s Gaels in 2011, the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks women’s hockey powerhouse once again rule the roost.
With a resounding, convincing and resolutely dominating 5-1 victory over the Western Mustangs in game two of the Ontario University Athletics’ (OUA) best-of-three finals, the Hawks soared to their eighth title in nine years.
“It never gets old,” said fourth-year and graduating captain Abby Rainsberry while the golden piece dangled from her neck.
“But it’s a different feel this year… It’s been awhile.”
That it has. Laurier’s stacked squad, again led by Rainsberry and goaltending superstar Liz Knox, fizzled in the post-season last year; something that the current calendar’s edition of the Hawks never came close to doing.
“I was so proud of our whole team,” said head coach Rick Osborne. “Particularly our leaders in Rainsberry, and [Fiona] Lester and [Alicia] Martin and [Katherine] Shirriff. They were all here last year and were [part of] our pillars of strength.”
The Mustangs didn’t have a prayer.
From the opening faceoff, this was a team possessed. Laurier’s relentless forecheck, perfect defensive play, and mistake-free penalty kill were just some of the successes they enjoyed at Western’s Thompson Arena on a cold Saturday night in London.
With two goals separated by 19 seconds, not even five minutes into the contest, the Hawks had the game wrapped up before the sixth-ranked Mustangs could even mount a proper offensive.
And like it’s been done so many times in the past, this was a collaborated effort.
Eleven different Hawks found the score-sheet, with the oft-inglorious fourth line taking centre stage in this one.
Jessie Hurrell notched a goal and an assist while spotting power-play duty and could have had a second tally if it weren’t for a phantom goaltender interference call on the Hawks’ Tammy Feiburger.
Hurrell’s linemate and fellow fourth-liner Danelle Im scored her first of the playoffs to conclude the first period. That made the score 3-0 and that deflated the team from London.
The usual suspects Laura Brooker and Freiburger got the Hawks’ first two markers and Paula Lagamba rounded out the scoring on Laurier’s end.
Western rookie phenom Stacey Scott had Western’s only reply as she slipped a puck by WLU backup goaltender Rachel Hamilton. Hamilton stopped 21 of 22 shots thrown her way. Western’s Olivia Ross handled 44 of 49.
Starting tender Erika Thunder, who was forced out of game one of the finals with a sprained knee after making a save, didn’t dress for the London affair. But she could have.
“[The sprain] has responded really well to treatment and had this been a deciding game, I think [athletic therapist] Jamie Carlson and the training staff would have been ready but we have the luxury of having enough depth at that position to be able to get a win [without her],” said Osborne.
Thunder is expected to see game action this weekend in Edmonton when Laurier tries to win its first national title since 2005.
Until then, the job belongs to Hamilton, who looked much more comfortable between the pipes on Saturday than during game one when she was thrown into the fire. Laurier still won that one handily.
The once-expected starter, and now third-string goalie, Kristen Kilgallen will also make the trip to Alberta.
The two biggest trials Laurier faced these playoffs were executed flawlessly. The first (Thunder’s injury) saw Hamilton shine. While she let out some suspect rebounds, the Wasaga Beach native found her game as the match wore on.
The second; a 1-0 upset loss to Windsor in round two’s game one, had the markings of last year’s semi-finals bow-out to Queen’s written all over it.
But the Hawks marched into Windsor and evened the series without a flinch.
“It took some resolve on our part [to win that series],” said the coach. “We were playing our best hockey coming out of that.”
Now, the champions will do battle in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) tournament this weekend. And with their No. 1 ranking, they’ve been pooled as heavy favourites with the (all-year-unranked) University of Prince Edward Island and the Montréal Carabins.
Should they escape their pool as expected, it’s likely the team will face the No. 2 McGill Martlets in the final; a powerful nemesis who the Hawks have tangled with before this year, ending in a 5-4 shootout loss.
“It would be ideal to meet McGill,” smiled Rainsberry. “But we’ll see what happens.